Wedding timeline planning tips

Part of why the weddings I photograph run so smoothly is because a couple months before your wedding, we have a Wedding Timeline Planning Meeting. During the meeting, we’ll go through your wedding day timeline in detail: your family portrait list, specific times and locations, appropriate buffer times, and so much more. 

Wedding planning can be stressful. I am happy to work through details with you and your wedding planner. Here are a ton of my wedding timeline planning tips!


Getting ready, hair and makeup, etc

Suggested photography time: 1-2 hours 

The preparation part of your big day holds some of my favorite moments because there is such variety in the “feels”! 

It may start with a casual moment of a mother and the maid-of-honor chatting over coffee. In another room, there’s the serene calm of a makeup artist applying eyelashes to the bride or a bridesmaid getting her hair done, while the rest of the wedding party prepares for their day. This is a great time to also get more casual pictures of the bride with all of her important girls before the big day gets too busy!

I like having an hour or two, because I’m able to observe and document some of these interactions. 

Depending on the location, I’d also like to visit the groom and his groomsmen to photograph them getting ready. If you opt for a 2nd photographer on the day of, you’ll also have full coverage on their side. 

Many of my couples enjoy seeing what their spouse was doing in the morning. Some hit the driving range. Some play board games. It all adds to the story of your day. It’s important to be able to look back at both the bride and groom before their big day!

  • Put all of the important details in one area (ie: shoes, jewelry, invitations, hairpieces, etc.)
  • Ideal buffer: 1:00 p.m. Hair and makeup to be done 1:30 p.m. -2:00 p.m. Photographer arrives and photographs details and Getting Ready moments. Everyone gets dressed. Makeup and hair touchups 3:00 p.m. Depart Getting Ready to First Look or Ceremony Location 

First Look (and pre-ceremony portraits)

Suggested photography time: 1.5 hours

This is a great time to squeeze in family photos! Feel free to invite grandparents and extended family to this First Look session. It’s a wonderful way to enjoy your cocktail hour and reception knowing that all of your obligatory family photos have already been checked off!

I like to break formals up into three sections: 30 minutes for immediate family. 30 minutes for the bridal party. 30 minutes for the wedding couple. This way we can knock out photos of the wedding party and family, as well as shots of the bride and groom alone.

First Look Tips:

If your family or anyone in your wedding party is often fashionably late, I’d recommend you to tell them the start time begins 15-30 minutes earlier than when we actually start taking photos.


I like to arrive to the ceremony location about 30 minutes before so that I can tuck my gear away and be sure that my team and I are good to go! I make sure to build this into the wedding timeline on my end.

Ceremony tips: Make sure your wedding party knows where they are supposed to be prior to the ceremony and reception. This way you are not being asked a million questions about where everyone should stand right before you are supposed to walk down the aisle at the ceremony start. This can be done at the rehearsal dinner and with the help of your wedding planner.

Cocktail hour 

Suggested photography time: 1 hour 

If you choose to not have a first look, we’ll photograph your family portraits during cocktail hour.

  • Identify “photo captain(s)”. This person will know the important people and will be loud enough to get people “on deck” for the next portrait. My assistant and I will hustle and arrange groups quickly, but we am unable to control your family members who are of waiting in line at the bar or in the bathroom. ????
  • 4 weeks before the wedding, we will work together to create a list of important groups to photograph. These groupings include extended family as well as specific groups of friends. When you create a group photo, ask yourself, “Will this photo be printed”? If it’s a yes, let’s add it. If it’s a no, then perhaps not.
  • It will take 4-5 minutes to photograph each group.

If you want your reception details photographed, it’s ideal to do this before your guests enter the room. 15 minutes is ideal for reception details. This is also a great time to get detailed shots of wedding invitation if you choose to have that set up. During this time it is typical that the vendors, such as dj or band, planner and staff from the venue meet as well.


Suggested photography time: 3 hours (or 1.5 hours of dancing)


If you are having a special “send off” (i.e.: bubbles, sparklers, etc.), it’ll be important to capture that. If not, then we prefer to stay for 1.5 hours of open dance floor after dinner has ended. After 1.5 hours, past 9:45 p.m. guests dancing images start to look the same, except a bit sweatier.

And of course, we will make sure to take photos of the cake cutting, parent dances, first dance, and all the important speeches from the best man, bride and groom, or any guests who get up and expresses their love for you.


I feel that I am most un-useful during dinner service. Most do not want me photographing them eating, so I usually sit in a corner somewhere and twiddle my thumbs. This is the controversial part: I would like to eat my dinner when my wedding couple eats, so I never miss a beat. Typically, vendors are served dinner after the guests are all served. By that time, we really should be getting into speeches, parent dances, and cake cutting. Instead, the entire wedding is waiting for the photographers, videographers, DJ, and band to scarf down their dinner. When I’ve politely asked the venue to feed me at the same time, many venue managers stare at me blankly and say, “We’ll feed you after everyone else”. I’m sure they walk into the kitchen and tell their colleagues about the “entitled photographer”. =P Some of my couples have been successful at asking their venues to feed their photographers at the same time. Three of the main benefits is that your timeline will run more smoothly, your vendors will be ready to roll, and there will be more time for open dancing. I’m happy to talk more about this issue. It’s something that all photographers face, but do not mention.

Night portraits 

Suggested amount of time: 15 minutes

I’d like to steal you away for 10 minutes when the light is beautiful. Typically, we’ll do this while your guests are eating so you’re not missing out on any dancing.

These photographs will give us a completely separate feel from the portraits that we captured earlier. I often hear that couples love this 10 minute getaway because they’re able to take a break from the reception and just be with each other. Some of my favorite epic portraits are taken during twilight when the sky lights up in a brilliant blue. Don’t worry! Well, get you back on the dance floor as soon as possible.

Some of my couples’ favorite photos were from their night portrait session. Take a look at some of the reviews here!

Here are some of my favorite twilight and sunset portraits.

Peabody Essex Persian wedding ceremony photos and reception photos


1:00-2:30 p.m. Getting ready (Photographers arrive at 1:00 p.m.)

2:30 p.m. -4:00 p.m. First look and Pre-ceremony portraits (Immediate family, Bridal party, Couple)

4:00-4:30 p.m. Transportation to Ceremony

4:30 p.m. -5:00 p.m. Buffer time

5:00 p.m. -6:00 p.m. Ceremony

6:00 p.m. -7:00 p.m. Cocktail hour

7:00 p.m. -11:00 p.m. Reception (cake cutting, first dance, dinner)

(Photographers leave at 10:00 p.m.)

*discuss with other vendors what hour they leave

Kowloon Saugus Wedding-Photos Asian Boston Wedding Photographer Nicole Chan Photography


4:30 a.m. -9:00 a.m. Getting ready (Photographers arrive at 7:00am)

9:00 a.m. -9:30 a.m. Door Games/Buffer time

9:30 a.m. -10:30 a.m.

Tea Ceremony #1 and Family portraits

10:30 a.m. -11:00 a.m. Transportation to next Tea Ceremony #2

11:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m. Tea Ceremony #2 and Family portraits

12:00 p.m. -2:00 p.m. Lunch and Getting ready (part 2 – Western outfits – white wedding dress)

2:00-3:30 p.m. Portraits (in Western outfits)

4:00 p.m. -5:00 p.m. Western ceremony

5:00 p.m. -6:00 p.m. Cocktail Hour

6:00 p.m. -11:00 p.m. Reception starts

(Photographers leave at 10:00 p.m.)



5:00 a.m. -9:00 a.m. Getting ready (Photographers arrive at 7:00 a.m., enough time to capture some hair and makeup)

9:00 a.m. -10:00 a.m. Baraat /Photograph mandap

10:00 a.m. -1:00 p.m. Hindu ceremony start (part 1)

1:00 p.m. -2:00 p.m. Portraits (Immediate family, Bridal party, Bride and Groom) // Guests eat lunch

2:00 p.m. -4:00 p.m. Getting ready (part 2) // Bride + Groom change into reception outfit

4:00 p.m. -5:30 p.m. Portraits (part 2)

5:30 p.m. -6:00 p.m. Photograph details

6:00p.m.-7:00 p.m. Cocktail hour

7:00 p.m. -12:00 a.m. Reception (Photographers leave at 11:00 p.m. or after the Vidai Ceremony)

Thanks for reading all of my wedding timeline planning tips!

What time do I need to leave my rehearsal dinner the night before?

The couple, wedding party, and family are all going to need a good nights rest the night before the wedding day. We definitely recommend the wedding couple leave the rehearsal dinner venue with enough time to get a full 8 hours of sleep the night prior to their ceremony and reception so they can be prepared for their start time for hair and makeup and to dance all night. If your rehearsal dinner is not the night before your wedding day, you don’t need to worry about this!

Who should I put in charge of my wedding day checklist?

If you have your wedding planner attend the ceremony and reception, they should definitely have a copy. I would also suggest the maid-of-honor and best man have a checklist as well. Additionally, its important for the photographer, hair and makeup team, officiant, dj or band, and venue to know their start time as well.

What key photos do I need to make sure we take during our ceremony and reception?

I’m sure you have been all over Facebook/Pinterest looking at wedding photos. Lucky for you, as a wedding photographer I have an extensive list of the most commonly asked for photos for a wedding.

Getting ready: wedding party during hair and makeup, the wedding dress,

Ceremony: Soon-to-be husband waiting for his bride with best man at the ceremony start, bride and maid-of-honor, wedding party and family coming down the aisle, wedding party lined up, etc.

Cocktail Hour: Party and family photos, guests,

During this time, I will also take the opportunity to photograph the dining room and venue, before the guests arrive and the party begins.

Reception: bride and groom arrive, cake cutting, parent dances, first dance, dance floor, dj or band, dinner, guests dance, and more.

My family and friends are always late. What do I do?

I (and I’m sure your wedding planner) recommend telling them to arrive for their start time is 15-20 earlier. If the photographer says that you should begin at 2:00 p.m. wedding party photos, tell them to arrive at 1:40 p.m.

I hope these sample wedding day timelines for your evening wedding from the view of a photographer were helpful! Please reach out if you have any additional questions when it comes to wedding planning, your wedding day, your ceremony, a wedding reception timeline, or anything else!

Should my cocktail hour really be an hour?

Yep! An hour is the perfect amount of time to build into your wedding reception timeline for your guests to arrive and mingle before dinner begins. This also gives the photographer time to get some more guests, party and family photos before anyone begins to dance. Additionally, this provides the music team with a more accurate start time. The cocktail hour is a really nice way to create a buffer so you don’t have to worry about when your guests arrive if the wedding ceremony and wedding reception are in different locations.

What if I want my photographer to stay through the entire wedding reception?

That’s totally fine! Some couples find that during their wedding planning they decide that the wedding day timeline should end with a 10:00 p.m. cake cutting or at 11:00 p.m. wedding party and guests watch the couple go off to their honeymoon and want those moments captured. I’m happy to go over your full wedding day timeline, ceremony timeline, or just your reception timeline.

What if I don’t want any pictures of my wedding guests on the dance floor?

This is your wedding reception and your wedding day! I am here to capture anything you do want and nothing you don’t. If you want hundreds of pictures of your guests eating dinner and not a single picture of guests on the dance floor as soon as the music begins, we can make all that happen!

Can I hire you to photograph my rehearsal dinner as well?

Yes! I would be happy to work with you prior to your wedding day. Id be happy to plan our timeline were it begins the night before your wedding day. Ill see you as early as needed for your ceremony on your wedding day!


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